Author: Joel M. Laudenbach, DMD

Oral potentially malignant disorders (OPMDs) include oral leukoplakia (OL), oral erythroplakia, oral submucous fibrosis, oral lichen planus, proliferative verrucous leukoplakia, and actinic keratosis. Once an OPMD has been clinically diagnosed, execution of management strategy is critical. When formulating the strategy, healthcare providers should consider histopathology, lesion characteristics (ie, surface texture, unifocal, multifocal), lesion location in the mouth (ie, tongue, floor of mouth), patient risk factor assessment, and a detailed medical/cancer history.

In this newly published article, Nadeau and Kerr[1] detail various parameters surrounding evaluation and management of OPMDs. The authors make it clear that OPMDs are challenging, each with their own nuances regarding risk for malignant transformation. For example, when OL is unifocal, nonhomogeneous, nodular, or verrucous, there is a much higher chance of the OL becoming dysplastic (12.63-fold) or demonstrating a focus of carcinoma (8.9-fold) when compared with homogeneous types of OLs.[1]

Provider knowledge of these variables is critical when counseling patients about their diagnosis and management options and when selecting interventions along with follow-up care. Although progression to malignancy is difficult to predict with OPMDs, clinicians can account for multiple risk factors such as smoking/alcohol status, high-risk location in the oral cavity, and size of lesion (>200 mm2) to help formulate a tailored management plan for each patient. Consultation with an oral pathologist to discuss the histologic appearance in the context of specific patient history and lesion characteristics can provide additional perspective and/or recommendations.

Modifiable oral cavity cancer risks related to tobacco and heavy alcohol use should be communicated to patients with OPMDs so that they are able to make changes that may lead to regression/disappearance of certain lesions such as OL. Providers confronted with patients who use tobacco and/or heavy alcohol can integrate recommendations for cessation of tobacco[2] and alcohol[3] because they are both established, independent, causative agents for oral cavity cancer and OPMDs.

Available treatment strategies for OPMDs include surgical removal/ablation, photodynamic therapy, and surveillance. The authors make a clear point with supportive studies that traditional surgical excision of dysplastic OPMDs may decrease malignant transformation (MT) risk, yet it does not fully eliminate that risk and, in some instances, has not changed the MT risk when compared with surveillance alone. Appropriate surgical margin identification for OPMDs is clinically challenging. The authors note that smaller excisional margin sizes (1-2 mm) without marginal histologic assessment are common surgical management goals for OPMDs.[1]

Nadeau and Kerr carefully outline updated considerations for all OPMDs. Healthcare providers involved in screening, diagnosing, referring, and/or managing patients with OPMDs should be well versed in standards of care, including baseline biopsy goals, tobacco/alcohol cessation, currently available interventions, and surveillance care.

Clinicians should also develop a local team of practitioners who are experts in diagnosis and management of OPMDs to help patients obtain the best opportunity for positive outcomes. I encourage readers with interest to retrieve and review the full article by Nadeau and Kerr as a strategy to update your knowledge base and to continue to improve overall morbidity, mortality, and survival rates related to OPMDs.

1. Nadeau C, Kerr AR. Evaluation and management of oral potentially malignant disorders. Dent Clin North Am. 2018;62:1-27.

2. US Preventive Services Task Force. Final recommendation statement. Tobacco smoking cessation in adults, including pregnant women: behavioral and pharmacotherapy interventions. September 2015. Accessed March 1, 2018.

3. US Preventive Services Task Force. Final recommendation statement. Alcohol misuse: screening and behavioral counseling interventions in primary care. May 2013.
/RecommendationStatementFinal/alcohol-misuse-screening-and-behavioral-counseling-interventions-in-primary-care Accessed March 1, 2018.

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